A hope beyond hope

In spite of everything in the world, God continues to hope and to work for the coming of that hope.

Full Text: 

A hope beyond hope

November 22, 2015 – Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5

 

            I’d like to start this morning with a series of questions.  I want you to know that I am not trying to shame anyone or make anyone feel guilty.  This is simply a survey for informational purposes only:

            How many of you have started your Christmas shopping?  (Anybody finished?)  How many of you have either baked or eaten (or both!) Christmas cookies?  How many of you have listened to Christmas music?  How many of you have some Christmas decorating up?  How many have their tree up?  How many have watched a Christmas program or movie?

            I have a few colleagues who, this year, are using a tradition in Eastern Orthodox Christianity which makes Advent, not four, but eight weeks long.  Since, in our culture, the focus on Christmas starts right after Halloween, that may not be such a bad idea.

            We aren’t doing that, but our assigned text from the narrative lectionary is a pair of readings from the prophet Isaiah, that are appropriate for Advent, as a way of preparing for Christmas.

 

            The first is from Isaiah 5.  It is not a traditional for Advent, but invites us to look at our own relationship to God.

            Whereas Elijah and Hosea were prophets in the northern kingdom, Isaiah is a prophet in the southern kingdom about the same time that Hosea is working.  After Assyria deals with the north, it turns its sights on the south.  The king in the south – King Ahaz – has made alliances with both Babylon and Egypt.  But since these alliances necessitate Ahaz pledging fealty to the gods of Babylon and Egypt, this is a violation of the first commandment – You shall have no other gods.

            Isaiah 5 is less an oracle of judgement and more a sad love song. 

            My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

            To put it more pedantically, God is like a farmer.  God bought the best land for a vineyard with exposure to sun.  God prepared the soil by removing the stones.  God bought and planted choice vines.  And God was patient – God waited two perhaps three years for the vines to bear fruit.  God protected the vines.  And God built a vat so that he could be ready to make wine when the grapes were ready.

            God did everything in the right way to insure a successful yield, but the crop failed!  The vineyard did not produce good grapes.  It produced wild grapes, grapes that could not be used in making wine. And, of course, that’s what you want in a love relationship – You want wine.  You want joy.  You want celebration.  But there was nothing to be celebrated.  The relationship had completely soured.

            But it wasn’t just a matter of faith.  It wasn’t just a matter of which they did or did not worship.  It was a matter of how they treated each other:

            He expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

God planted a vineyard, but got only violence and victims.  So, what could God do but tear everything up. 

 

This is a sad love song.  It is a song Isaiah sings for God.  It is his version of, “Your cheatin’ heart.” 

But it is also not the last song that Isaiah sings.  It is not the last that he speaks.  Israel may be done with God.  But God is not done with Israel.

Whereas Isaiah 5 is not read during Advent, Isaiah 11 is.  It is read on the second Sunday of Advent in year 2 of the three year lectionary.  But it is also appropriate for this Sunday because the opening lines of this chapter express the hope for a righteous king

            A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

 

This one will not judge by appearances, but will judge by righteousness.  He will lift up the poor.  He will honor the meek. 

But, Isaiah 11:1-10 is also commonly read for the services of lessons and carols at Christmas. 

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

 

This song is a song of hope.  This is our hope on this Christ the King Sunday.  And it is our hope for Christmas.  It sings of a hope that is greater than all our shopping and baking and decorating, as hopeful as those activities are.  This song expresses a hope that is beyond all our efforts, beyond all our failures, beyond all the violence in the world.  In spite of all this, God continues to hope; God continues to sing; and God continues to work for us and for the whole world.